By Vashti Kelly

The last week in May AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs observes Healthy Pregnancy month dedicated to educating farm worker women and their families on the importance of protecting not only one’s self but their unborn child as well while working in the fields.

What does it mean to have a healthy pregnancy?

Of course, once a woman discovers she is pregnant regular prenatal care is essential, not only for the health of the developing baby but for the mother’s well-being as well. Pregnant women are discouraged from drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and using tobacco products. Avoidance of exposure to toxic substances is also encouraged as certain chemicals can cause birth defects, premature birth, and miscarriage.

Sounds simple enough, unless your job requires you to work on a farm where you might be around or come into contact with potentially harmful substances such as pesticides and their residues. Additionally, there are other factors that could pose dangerous conditions for pregnant women; inadequate access to safe bathroom facilities, long hours of physical exertion in extreme temperatures, and lack of potable water.

Farm worker women whether migrant or seasonal, work in low wage and relatively dangerous conditions without health insurance and/or access to adequate healthcare. On occasion, there are services available through migrant health programs or related assistance programs, however, these are all dependent upon existing funding and resources. In the off chance that health screenings are being offered, farm worker women like most women put everyone else first making sure that family members are taken care of prior to their own health needs.

Not to delve too deeply into related topics of reproductive justice but reproductive health services are costly and often treated as specialty services leaving women without power or say over their own bodies. In other words, with this framework of social inequities, women are left to navigate a difficult road to access reproductive health care, especially low-income women of color.  And, when farm worker women often get paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job, endure gender-based abuse and violence, and are often excluded from farm worker provided housing options it is no wonder that the topic of healthy pregnancy is up for discussion.

AFOP Health & Safety recognizes that farm worker women have many of the same demands as any other woman if not more. No one really has the luxury of abandoning their employment which is why we designated a specific section of our pesticide take-home exposure training to pesticide exposure and pregnancy. By educating women on how to better protect themselves before or during pregnancy while working in the fields is placing the power back in the hands of women to make the necessary choices for themselves.